Interview: ‘A Whole Lot More to Me’ Takes Craig Morgan in New Directions
Craig Morgan waited four years to release his upcoming new album, A Whole Lot More to Me, and with good reason: The 51-year-old took his time with his latest record to make it perfect, of course, but also to ensure that he was progressing as an artist without alienating both his fans and the country music industry.
"This record shows them a side of me that I think a lot of people haven’t heard," Morgan tells The Boot. "I think some of my long-term fans that have been around me for a long time, they’ve heard this side of me; they’ve seen it. They’ve come to know me, so they know that I’m capable of doing something different than “Redneck Yacht Club” and “International Harvester.”
"I’ve hinted at it on the last record or two. On the last record in particular, I kind of hinted at going in this direction, because that’s challenging," he continues. "It’s challenging to find songs and write songs that allow you to progress and continue to become and maintain some relevance in the industry while maintaining the personality that they’ve come to know. I feel like we did that on this record."
Morgan co-wrote five of the 12 songs on A Whole Lot More to Me, including the disc's title track, which he says sums up his 16-year career.
"I feel like it truly encompasses the material of this record," Morgan shares. "People have gotten used to certain things from Craig Morgan: I know everything there is to know about trucks and beer and tailgates; I’m a country boy. But there’s a whole lot more to me; I’m not just a country boy. And that’s what this album is about."
Morgan spent more than a year writing and listening to songs for the record, far more concerned with the end result than deadlines or writing credits.
"First, I had to be able to deliver the song. In order for me to deliver a song, I have to feel some attachment, I have to be able to sing it correctly and deliver it. That was one," Morgan explains of selecting A Whole Lot More to Me's material. "Number two, I was only going to record songs that we felt like were relevant to where country radio’s at right now. So, if they played a Florida Georgia Line or a Cole Swindell [song], they had to be able to play the Craig Morgan single right next or right before, and that’s difficult, because I don’t wear skinny jeans, and I’m not 21."
Most importantly, the Tennessee native says, each song had to be one that he believed in personally and could deliver without any false pretense.
"Personally, as much as everybody might hammer the 'bro-country,' I like some of the stuff," Morgan acknowledges. "In fact, I feel like I could sing a lot of that stuff, but that’s not who I am. That’s who they are, and I would never take away anything from what they’re doing, in the same way I wouldn’t want anyone to take away from what I’m doing. And I feel like this material could be played in front of or behind anything that’s being played on country radio right now."
I know everything there is to know about trucks and beer and tailgates; I’m a country boy. But there’s a whole lot more to me; I’m not just a country boy. And that’s what this album is about.
One of Morgan's favorite songs on his new album is "Hearts I Leave Behind," a duet with Christian band Third Day's Mac Powell. Morgan was introduced to the song while at an event with Taya Kyle, the widow of "American Sniper" Chris Kyle. When a former Army Ranger sang the song. Morgan was instantly drawn to the tune -- but it almost didn't make the project.
"We heard it in the very beginning of the song selection process. It kind of hung in there, and then it would drop off, and then we would go back and do another listening session, and go, ‘Man, we really should have this song back in.’ We’d put it back in," Morgan recalls. "It went back and forth, off and on, for the whole year."
It was only when Morgan decided to go in and cut his own song, "Living on Memories," that he also decided to record "Hearts I Leave Behind," since he already had the studio booked.
"We got to talking about it, and Powell’s name came up. I said, ‘I love that guy’s vocal,'" Morgan recounts. "I went back and listened to Mac, and he had cut a country record. It blew me away, but I was scared to death, because I didn’t know, on the record, what it would sound like, going from my record to his record, that transition, whether it would be too harsh.
"It wasn’t until we got into the studio and I started cutting his vocals on the record that it floored me, emotionally," Morgan admits. "This is a huge, huge song now. I feel like his participation elevated that song to a whole new level."
A Whole Lot More to Me marks a new chapter in Morgan's career, and not just because of its breadth: After releasing six albums produced by his good friend Phil O'Donnell, Morgan co-produced his new set of tunes with Byron Gallimore, changing everything that he had ever done during the recording process.
"I knew that for me to continue to progress and maintain relevance in the industry, I had to make some changes. I had to get out of my comfort zone," Morgan notes. "I think it was a perfect marriage for this project: It allowed me vocally to do some stuff that I’ve never done before, and I attribute that to Byron ... There’s a couple songs on this record that I literally sang from top to bottom one time, and he said, ‘We’re done. Moving on.’"
Some artists might dream of fame and fortune, but Morgan isn't one of them. When asked what his goals for A Whole Lot More to Me are, his first response had very little to do with himself.
"[I want to] sell a ton of records and influence people’s lives and have them impacted emotionally," he reveals. "I hope that, at some point, somebody listens to it, who might be going through tough times with their spouse, and they go, ‘You know what? I love them, and no matter how hard it is right now, this song makes me appreciate them.’"
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